Meanwhile in Kenya
While the guys from Kenyan Riders Downunder are racing somewhere on the planet, there’s a lot happening on the ground in Kenya that we don’t hear much of. Kenyan Riders Downunder is the professional racing arm of a greater encompassing social enterprise that is developing the sport of cycling at the grassroots and with the youth of Kenya. This is the Kenyan Riders (sans Downunder) project.
While one of the key roles of the Kenyan Riders project is to spot and develop cycling talent, it’s a positive force in the communities of Kenya in which it is currently embedded.
Kenya is blessed with an incredible pool of athletes. Groomed from youth, they are uniquely suited to become the best cyclists in the world. Kenyan Riders is a pioneering elite bicycle race team. We have created a camp in Iten modeled after the running camps in the area that are the factories of global distance running dominance.
One of the most important aspects of the project is introducing the sport of cycling to Kenya. We organize bicycle races to encourage the greater use of the bicycle so that more children, who live further away, can attend school. They are also a means to identify talented children and award them cycling scholarships. Aid is not a relationship of equals.
Kenyan Riders is an enterprise that drives economic change and social good through cycling. For starters, we create employment for our cyclists and staff. We fully engage the community, and use local resources all the time. We hire local metalworkers to make and maintain bicycles. We engage carpenters to make workbenches, massage tables and all other furniture. We have also hired an English language teacher to conduct classes for cyclists who never had a chance at an education. We are fully engaged in the local community as productive and contributing citizens… the farmer, the milkman, the taxi driver, etc.
Ciarán Fitzpatrick is East African Coach and is in charge of operations of the Kenyan Riders project. He’s our guest blogger for this edition and he takes us on a tour of what happens in Kenya.
Take it away, Ciarán
With the current resources, the Kenyan Riders project has three foci:
- Black mamba races
- Youth programs in Iten and Nakuru
Black Mamba Races
Each month we organize a Black Mamba race with the venue alternating between Iten and Nakuru. We hope to add Bungoma as a venue for the June edition. The Black Mamba is the most common bike in Kenya and it’s known as a Roadster or Cruiser outside Kenya. It’s heavy, awkward and not the most comfortable bike in the world. However, as it’s the most accessible bike around, it makes sense to use it for our races.
These races serve as a way for us to identify new talent. If someone asks to be in the team, we can tell him to prove himself first on the road. They are also useful to gauge the form of the riders, and successful competitors can also use them to earn an income.
So far, all of our races have been climbing races. Josphat Githambo of our Iten team and scholarship programme has been the most impressive so far with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes overall topping the under 23 category each time.
Nakuru coach, Simon Ketoti and former Kenyan Rider Ismail Chelanga have been the top seniors. John Kariuki and Stephen Miano of our Nakuru team lead the way among the under 20s.
In Iten and the surrounding areas we have a small group of secondary school students and one young full time cyclist. From this group I choose four to represent Kenyan Riders, Iten at local road races in Kenya. Our most recent team consisted of Salim Kipkemboi, 17 years; Josphat Githambo, 21 years; Andrew Kimutai, 19 years, and Kelvin Kipngetich 19 years. Salim led the team home in 2nd behind the experienced David Kinjah of Safari Simbaz.
The students have just returned to school after a four week break. The school holiday gave us a good chance to get in some hard training that is difficult to schedule while they are in school.
They raced twice while the tougher sessions consisted of mountain bike criterium, hill reps (repetitions), time trial, long rides and weight sessions. While the others have returned to school Salim has travelled to Morocco with the national team for a four day tour.
Simon Ketoti runs the Nakuru branch of our project where he has a large group of teenagers training with him. He uses our regular Black Mamba Races as trials for the local races where he also selects a team of four cyclists. Ketoti is still a cyclist and was part of the Kenyan Riders team for a number of years before stepping into coaching.
The most gifted of our young cyclists receive scholarships to assist them to continue their education while pursuing their cycling dreams. The first recipient of our scholarships was Josphat Githambo. Josphat is a younger brother to Joseph Gichora of the Kenyan Riders Downunder team and first came to us in 2013 having left school. Towards the end of the year he admitted that he wanted to go back to school. Having shown us enough in his short stay with the team, we decided he had earned some support.
Despite the huge demands Kenyan education places on his time (morning training sessions can last only 40 minutes while afternoon sessions are 90 minutes three times a week), Josphat has continued to improve and finished a very impressive third position in last year’s Tour de Machakos, Kenya’s biggest race.
Through our holiday camps in 2014, we also found Andrew Kimutai. Andrew was training very lightly but still managed to keep up with our seniors in certain sessions. We figured he could progress a lot with a bit more focus and guidance so we enrolled him and Josphat in St Paul’s Secondary School Kapkessum. In his second year of serious training, Andrew is showing signs that he can follow his Kenyan teammates into professional cycling.
In Nakuru, Ketoti has identified Kevin Mwangi, Stephen Miano, Geoffrey Waire and Luka Kinyua for the scholarship programme. Mwangi and Miano are regularly to the fore in our Black Mamba races while Waire and Kinyua are much younger but still making an impact.
Thanks to Ciarán Fitzpatrick for his account of the Kenyan Riders project. And to Nicholas Leong for his input. Photos by Simon Blake and Ciarán Fitzpatrick.